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Home / Lady Speak

You're as young as you want to be

 Nthenya Macharia, an image consultant (Courtesy)

Nthenya Macharia, an image consultant who confidently sports a grey wisp of hair, says the look, which is hereditary and appeared in her 20s, has become her signature look.

She tells Annie Awuor her take on how women should dress in boardrooms, and why she believes in female friendships.

What does Nthenya Macharia do for a living?

I train and counsel individual and corporate clients on appearance, behaviour, communication and soft skills. As an expert in image consulting, I guide clients to achieve their specific goals with authenticity, credibility and confidence.

Although a lot of my clients are corporate, I also get individual ones. Others are clients who are in new seasons of life and need guidance on how to navigate new territory.

Some men, for instance, refer their wives who have recently given birth and gained some weight and find themselves struggling to dress their new body. Some are divorcees looking to regroup and begin again with a fresh image.

The other lot is clients who have been asked to make a speech at work, funeral or a social setting; those promoted to managerial positions, or moving from the corporate world into politics. Basically, we help clients who find themselves in a new season of life, and need guidance on how to navigate that space.

Besides, I train on African cultural etiquette. A lot of expatriates, when they come to Kenya, sometimes may struggle with understanding Kenyan cultural etiquette. They do not understand why Kenyans do certain things, and this can lead to conflict. This is where I come in.

  

I can see you’re rocking your grey hair with confidence, while most people choose to hide such. Why do you choose to wear it so proudly?

I went grey very early, in my 20s. It is hereditary. At that age, I did not dislike it as such, but I was not as proud of it as I am now. Back in the day grey hair was not as cool as it is now.

Nowadays you even have grey wigs and braids, and they are popular. However, whenever I would wear my grey hair in public, people would always stop me and complement my look.

The more I have grown and learnt to love myself, the quicker it has become my signature look, and my identity. It is unique, and is remembered long after I have left a room.

I understand that people fear greying of hair because they associate it with aging, but they fail to realise that a person is not young because of their hair or how they look, you are as young as you decide you want to be.

I have a young spirit and it shines through my eyes, and even in the manner I carry myself.

Do you think that parents knowingly or unknowingly act as image consultants for their children?

Parents play a critical role in moulding the image of their children. They pick their clothes, hairstyle, teach them how to behave and carry themselves and in determining what is decent and appropriate.

Basically, etiquette and manners are taught at home. My son is now four and people are always surprised by his etiquette and manners.

If there is a quality you want your child to have, you must be intentional about instilling it in him or her.

Nowadays, besides parents, children are also influenced by what they are exposed to. That is why parents should control what their children are exposed to or consume.

What is your take on how women should dress in boardrooms? Can florals and feminine colours make the cut?

A lot of women want to copy Michelle Obama’s style and bring it to boardrooms. They do not realise that she was the supporting cast for the president and so she could wear anything.

The rules are different in the boardroom. The international style and language for business is a suit. If you dress in floral or bright colours in spaces which are dominated by men, you will struggle to fit in. A great style choice is US Vice President Kamala Harris, as she is often in a navy-blue power look.

Further, different colours say different things about a person and elicit different emotions, and so you must be careful and intentional about the colours you wear if you want to be taken seriously. The rules in the boardroom were not set by us women, but by men, and so if you come with a different script you will find many barriers.

However, if you are dealing with people from the younger generation who are open-minded, like maybe people from the tech industry, you can wear what you want. If you have earned your stripes as a woman and are at the top of your game, then you can change the rules from the top and wear what you want.

What is the proper office look for a woman, or does it even matter?

The truth of the matter is that women have to work harder than men because the playing field is not fair.

If you want to be successful in the office in the right way, you have to position yourself in a way that it is clear that you earned your place through merit and not in other ways.

Do not wear a top that is too revealing or a dress that is too short. Whether you like it or not, people make judgment about you; 55 per cent by how you are dressed, 38 per cent by the tone of your voice, and 7 per cent by what you say.

So even before you open your mouth, the interviewer already knows if they like you or not. Basically, you have a 93 per cent chance of being misunderstood even before you pull out your credentials.

So, yes, you must be intentional about how you dress because how you choose to dress in the office affects how people perceive you.

What do you love most about being in your 40s and how do you believe it has changed the way you carry yourself even in the way you run your business?

I love that I no longer feel the pressure for validation from others. You know who you are, you have a voice, and are in your own element. You have found your passion and are very clear about what you want and what you do not want.

How important do you feel that female friendships are for women? Some women don’t speak so positively about female friendships; what is your take on this?

I believe in them. Getting older as a woman helps to weed out friendships that do not add value. I have amazing friends.

We do not meet all the time, but when we get a chance to be together, we build each other. If you want to know what kind of friends you have, just ask yourself, what emotions they bring.

Do you feel energised after a talk with them or completely drained after, or do you feel like you can conquer anything? I have made it a habit to regularly audit the people I allow into my life.

However, the audit is not just for my friends; I also audit myself to find out if I am the kind of friend I want others to be to me. I live by the Bible verse, Mathew 22:39.

You lost your parents in a span of two years. How has that changed you or your life?

I lost my mother in 2017 and father in 2018. Grief is something, no one can prepare you for it. I have gained more empathy for others who have also lost loved ones.

I understand grief, and so I just don’t say sorry to those who are grieving. I am intentional to also pray for those who are grieving.

Also, it taught me the importance of legacy stories, the power of documenting one’s history. I am so glad that before my parents died, my brother, who is a story teller, recorded their stories on video. He captured our history and family tree from my parents.

I can now share all these with my children, and hopefully they will pass it on to the next generation. This had a huge impact on me and my family, so much so that my brother and I now document stories for clients who are interested in the service.

You always look so stylish and well put together, what is your secret?

Be intentional about knowing and understanding your personal style. This is what personal branding is all about, and once you know what works for you, do not veer from it.

If you are not sure, go see an expert who can help you figure it out. If you look at all my pictures, you will notice I have uniform looks.

My style is afro-chic and I always incorporate bright colours, and that is often orange because it is my colour pallet.

You got married a little later than what society considers ‘normal’, in your mid-thirties. Looking back, do you think it was an advantage or do you have any regrets?

I have charted my own path, and not gone with what society thinks, and I like that. Before I got married I worked in PR and events for 12 years and had a crazy busy life with not much time for anything else. And after I left, I had all the time to build my business, so much so that by the time I was getting married I had a successful consultancy.

On the other hand, now that I am raising my family, those who got married in their 20s and had to put their career on the back-burner in order to raise their family are now in their 40s and are getting back into their careers.

I do not think any path or choice is better than the other, because I believe everyone’s path is different. I believe in enjoying every season, and so no regrets here.

What do you love most about being married?

I love the fact that it gives you a person to do life with. Being of the opposite sex they bring in a new view of life, a fresh new take that complements your perspective.

As an image consultant, what do you believe is the image a wife should carry?

A man was first attracted to his wife because she looked and dressed in a certain way. Do not lose that when you get married.

Continue to take care of yourself and to look your best. I know that life happens, but do not forget who you were and that you are a woman who is beautiful and attractive.

Here, it is important to have friends to help keep you accountable, and if you are struggling, get help. Find an image consultant to help you get back. If you look good, you feel good!

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I see myself being happy and fulfilled, and doing my best to represent God’s kingdom well.

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